Soccer without bordersSoccer is more than just a sport. It connects people from all around the world, crossing boundaries and eliminating limitations. Soccer Without Borders embodies exactly what soccer’s purpose is. Soccer Without Borders is dedicated to building a more inclusive world using the world’s universal language. Founded in 2006, Soccer Without Borders achieves its vision through youth-development programs serving underprivileged youth in more than 65 countries.

Soccer without Borders

The nonprofit organization believes that creating meaningful change is more important than the actual sport. They build their programs around the interpersonal element of the sport to meaningfully impact their youth’s physical, social and individual progression by using soccer as an agent of positive change in the development of skills necessary to overcome obstacles.

Impacting nearly 2,000 children on a yearly basis, Soccer Without Border stretches across 10 countries. In the United States, the organization is stationed in Baltimore, Greely, Seattle and Oakland. Refugees seeking asylum in the United States comprise more than 70 percent of Soccer Without Borders participants. Internationally, Soccer Without Borders has program offices in Uganda and Nicaragua. In the past, Soccer Without Borders has worked in several countries in Latin America and Africa.

Soccer in Nicaragua

As one of the poorest countries in Latin America, more than two million Nicaraguans live in poverty with 20 percent of the population living in extreme poverty. Children are the first to suffer from poverty. Faced with health problems, violence and abuse, children lack the same opportunity. In particular, young girls are often victims of sexual exploitation, child marriage and human trafficking, increasing gender inequalities. Many children, especially girls, do not receive an education because of these disparities.

Founded in 2008, Soccer Without Borders hosts a program in Granada, Nicaragua. The organization works with girls ages seven to 20 through the league with year-round programs, camps and clinics. In Nicaragua, the participants of Soccer Without Borders are 100 percent girls. The organization also provided education scholarships to 99 girls between 2013 and 2016.

Soccer in Uganda

Soccer Without Borders also founded a program based in Kampala, Uganda in 2008. There, the organization serves male and female youth refugees from Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi. Ages range from ages 5-23, and they participate in tournaments, festivals and a variety of community events. Forty-one percent of the participants are female, and most of the coaches are refugees themselves.

A 2016 poverty reduction assessment shows Uganda has reduced poverty from a monetary perspective, but the nation still lags behind in non-monetary areas such as sanitation, health and education. Children often end up living in the streets, victims of child labor, child trafficking and child abuse. Both young girls and boys are forced into harsh situations. Boys become members of the armed forces while girls are forced to prostitute themselves. Young girls are often victims of violence and child marriage.

How Sports Can Help

Soccer and other sports can act as an agent of change. While they cannot eradicate poverty, sports help blur the divisive lives of inequality that poverty creates. Sports focus on building children’s developmental needs to then address the larger needs of the surrounding communities. Education through sports like soccer can provide children with skills such as decision making and responsibility that apply both on and off the field. The goal of sports is to help children develop the necessary skills to break the cycle of poverty.

For its efforts, Soccer Without Borders was named the winner of the 2016 Barry & Marie Lipman Family Prize by the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania. The organization was also awarded the 2017 Urban Soccer Symposium Impact Award by U.S. Soccer as well as the 2018 Sports Award Winner by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Most notably, Soccer Without Borders earned the FIFA Diversity Award in 2017.

Gwen Schemm
Photo: Cloudfront

Sports for South African Girls
The importance of participation in sports for South African girls is pivotal to the long-term success of not only the individual lives of young women but for the country as a whole. South Africa produces talented Olympic athletes, such as Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk, and has a love of soccer, rugby and cricket in addition to track and field, cycling and many others. Irrespective of this continued investment of time, energy and money into national sports, women continue to be underrepresented and receive the least amount of support as athletes. For example, at professional levels, the nation’s three most popular sports – soccer, rugby and cricket – have yet to establish high-profile professional leagues for women.

According to the most recent study conducted by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, of the Olympic athletes receiving support, only nine out of 30 are women. Out of the 20 coaches who are working with these Olympic athletes, only three are women.

South Africa was one of the first countries to adopt The Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport, a set of laws passed to increase women’s participation in sports. In addition, the country passed the National Sport and Recreation Amendment Act to remedy inequalities in sport and recreation in South Africa by requiring federations to make necessities available for women and disabled people to participate at the top levels of sports. Despite these efforts, sports and gender equality in South Africa has not yet been achieved.

Why It Matters

For young women, equal representation of female athletes is important because it can positively influence their desire to compete in sports and seek the benefits which they provide. People can only believe what they see, so more work needs to be done surrounding media coverage and daily exemplification. Sports not only promote physical health and wellness, but they also teach discipline, dedication, determination and teamwork. These learned skills are important for application in life beyond sports and help create future female leaders.

Participation in sports provides students with the opportunity to socialize with their peers, promotes students’ health, improves physical fitness, increases academic performance and provides a sense of relaxation. In spite of these benefits, participation in sports for South African girls peaks between the ages of 10 to 13 years but then declines until the age of 18.

A study done in the rural province of Limpopo, South Africa found that 101 female students from 17 to 24 years old did not participate in sports because of five common barriers. These included: “I don’t like the dress code,” “lack of energy,” “lack of family support,” “family commitments” and “not in my culture.” Dress code remains a major barrier to participation in sports among girls in rural areas. In particular, Xhosa and Tsonga women will not wear sports attire like pants or shorts because they do not consider it culturally unacceptable.

Several factors influence the level of participation. One can break these factors down into structural, intrapersonal and interpersonal constraints. Structural factors refer to a lack of facilities, time constraints or financial resources. Intrapersonal constraints refer to the psychological states of individuals. Interpersonal constraints include a lack of partners or friends.

A Lack of energy was also a barrier which could be caused by the reduction of physical activity participation in physical education in schools, but exercise can actually increase energy levels. Lack of family support revealed that females without encouragement or support from their families to participate in school sports are less likely to participate in them moving forward.

U.N. Women and the Promotion of Female Empowerment

Systematically ingrained cultural beliefs, like dress code, are some of the reasons for a lack of female participation in sports. If these beliefs can be dismantled on a small, everyday level there is an ability to create more widespread acceptance across South Africa.

That is where organizations such as U.N. Women and Grassroot Soccer come in. The U.N. Women’s goal is to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women in developing countries. These organizations aim to set global standards for achieving gender equality and work with governments and civil society to design laws, policies and programs that ensure the standards are not only beneficial to women and girls worldwide, but effectively implemented as well. One of their many goals includes increasing female participation in sports as a means to fulfill four pillars.

  1. Women lead, participate in and benefit equally from governance systems.
  2. Women have income security, decent work and economic autonomy.
  3. All women and girls live a life free from all forms of violence.
  4. Women and girls contribute to and have greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience, and benefit equally from the prevention of natural disasters and conflicts and humanitarian action.

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer is just one example of the work U.N. Women is investing in. This program is a grantee of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Grassroot Soccer uses the power of soccer to encourage young people to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS and to prevent violence against women and girls.

In 2009, it created the SKILLZ Street program in South Africa to specifically target and address the needs of adolescent girls who are at a higher risk of contracting HIV and AIDS than males. Fast forward to 2014 and 2015, almost 3,000 girls from the ages of 10 to 14 years old graduated from the program.

Many of these girls are from townships, a term used to refer to the underdeveloped and racially segregated urban areas reserved for nonwhites in the Apartheid era. Township residents have a lack of access to basic sewerage, adequate roads, electricity, clean water, education and overexposure to gangs and gang violence. The young women participating in the SKILLZ Street Program range from Soweto and Alexandra townships in Johannesburg and Khayelitsha township in Cape Town.

Grassroot Soccer’s Managing Director, James Donald, explains the importance for South African female participation in sports saying, “For us, sport…means we can build relationships with children in a safe space that they are proud of participating in.” He goes on to explain that “[it] also provides a plethora of ready images, metaphors and analogies that children can relate to. Soccer, in particular, is a powerful way to challenge norms and stereotypes around gender.”

The knowledge surrounding the importance of participation in sports for South African girls needs to be more widespread in order to improve the long-term success of impressionable young women in this still developing country. An investment in organizations such as Grassroot Soccer is pivotal to aid women to go on to become confident future leaders who can set good examples for generations of South African girls to come.

– Meredith Breda
Photo: Flickr

Play Soccer Make PeacePlay Soccer Make Peace (PSMP), is an initiative to unite war-torn communities through soccer. The coordination, teamwork and communication that is needed in order to play soccer is a great way to bring people together who are usually divided by social and political factors. In order to participate, players must follow rules, codes of conduct and keep emotions in check. The goal is ultimately to win a tournament so that it will distract the community from its political conflict. The PSMP initiative originally began as a project by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the World Association of NGOs (WANGO) as an effort to bring down borders in conflict-strewn areas. In July 2004, Nigeria hosted the first Play Soccer Make Peace tournament.

‘Play Soccer Make Peace’ in Nigeria

Nigeria has a long history of ethnic conflict deeply embedded in its colonization by Britain. Nigeria has roughly 250 ethnic groups, which has made it difficult for the country to be socially and politically unified. The PSMP tournament offered the opportunity for individuals of different backgrounds to put behind their differences for the sake of sportsmanship and teamwork.

‘Pilot Programs’

UPF and WANGO also ran pilot programs in Gaza, Israel and Jordan in 2007. The Palestinian Football Association and Ministry of Sports and Culture took part in selecting teams and players to participate in the pilot tournament. The tournament was the largest tournament in Gaza and hosted teams from both Fatah and Hamas at a time when the two were in conflict with each other.

The initiative is quickly growing and has even brought together Arab and Jewish youth in northern Israel. Arabs and Jews do not have the chance to meet very often but the tournament gives them the opportunity to work together. Soccer in war-torn communities is laying the groundwork for social reconciliation, which is an important aspect of community healing from conflict and violence.

Expansion of Sport as a Unifying Force

Other nonprofits are quickly taking up the concept of sport as a unifying force. The nonprofit, Ultimate Peace aims to build trust, friendship and leadership in conflict areas through frisbee. The organization does not aim to bring peace to the Middle East, as that would require deeper political and governmental cooperation. They are mainly focused on healing and bringing communities together that have endured heavy political and social divisions.

The nonprofit Soccer for Peace was created from the PSMP initiative. The organization has camps where they build soccer skills and foster communication and trust in Israel between Arab and Jewish youth. The nonprofit has been successful thus far at bringing together an unlikely group of young people and making them cooperate with each other.

The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes that sports can be used to promote peace, as it gives the opportunity for conflicting sides to push aside geographical borders, social class and political division. Play Soccer Make Peace has become a massive movement and has inspired the creation of many other organizations with the same principals and goals.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr

The Super BowlThe first Superbowl took place on January 15, 1967. Tickets to attend cost only $12, and was the only Super Bowl in history to not sell out. The halftime show was comprised of local high school marching bands. Nowadays, tickets cost thousands of dollars, the halftime show goes all out with famous headliners, people host their own Superbowl parties and millions of people watch. Unfortunately, while cities spend millions of dollars every year to host a Superbowl game, people around the world, and even around the corner, are suffering from poverty. Below is a basic breakdown of different costs that go into the Superbowl and other ways that this money could be spent to help fight global poverty.

How Money Spent on the Super Bowl Could Be Used to Help People

  • Tickets Prices: Want to attend the Super Bowl? On average, tickets now cost between $2,500 to $3,000. This money could be put towards building wells in impoverished countries, for example. Some countries where you can build a well with this money are Togo, Niger, Senegal, Liberia and Chad. The cost to build a well in any of these countries ranges from $1,600 to $3,000.
  • The Halftime Entertainment: Pepsi has paid to sponsor the halftime show for several years now. On average, they reportedly spend $7 million to nab the sponsorship and invest an additional $100,000 in insurance for the show. It would cost around $86,000 to sponsor an entire African village. This includes a fully functioning school, medical center and access to clean water. For less than the cost of insuring the halftime show, the money could be allocated to helping a village in Africa thrive.
  • Commercial Advertisement: The average price for a 30-second ad spot in 2017 reached a height of  $5 million. The total amount spent on advertising from 1967 to 2018 is $5.4 billion. According to a study done in 2013, the average cost to run a mobile clinic was $92,898. That’s under one-fifth of the cost that it takes to run a thirty-second ad during the Superbowl.
  • Super Bowl Parties: In a survey conducted by The National Retail Federation, consumers said that they will spend an average of $81 on a Super Bowl watch party. That is a total of $14.8 billion dollars spent across the country. The cost to end world hunger is $30 billion a year.  American consumers who hold Super Bowl watch parties could pay for nearly half of that!

Realistically, not all consumers are going to pile their money together to help contribute to alleviating world hunger. But, if even just a few consumers donated that $81 dollars or a company like Pepsi opted to spend half of the Super Bowl sponsorship money to a cause that helps fight global poverty, it would make a huge difference because every dollar counts. While the fight against global poverty is one that takes time and money, it is a fight that can be won.

CJ Sternfels

Photo: Flickr

sports changing the world
Sports provide unique opportunities in a child’s life; sometimes, they are the only opportunity some children have to escape poverty. The following is a list of four sports organizations that are changing the world by using sports and sport-driven programs to help youth and communities across the globe enact social change and improve their impoverished situations.

Lengo Football Academy

Lengo Football Academy offers impoverished children and orphans in Tanzania opportunities through football. Emanuel Saakai started the first Lengo (Swahili for ‘goal’) Academy in the northern town of Arusha to give new opportunities to disadvantaged and street kids (both boys and girls). Saakai believes that the hard work necessary to excel in sports helps youths instill a sense of teamwork, respect and passion that will then translate to successes in other avenues of their lives. He has since created an eight-week program in Australia — where he acts as a qualified Football Federation Australia coach — whose proceeds go toward the program in Tanzania.

Lengo Football Academy helps its youth off the field as well. All of its participants are financially aided through primary and secondary education by Lengo. More importantly, enrollment in school is a requirement to participate in Lengo, ensuring its young footballers will go to class.

Lengo is also developing a 12-month employment program for graduating students to combat the rampant unemployment in Tanzania. The graduating students will be able to take jobs as coaches, referees, drivers, administrators and operators. They are also provided money management skills to ensure they are on their way to developing stable, successful lifestyles after the program ends.

Love.fútbol

The task of love.fútbol is to create durable, low-maintenance fútbol pitches in impoverished communities around the world. It is a community-driven endeavor. It provides the raw materials and support, but it insists that the local community helps with the building projects. For its inaugural build in Guatemala, love.fútbol saw a 90 percent participation rate in the rural village of Villa Nueva.

Love.fútbol is about more than sport. During the building process, it works with each community using asset mapping exercises to help the communities identify and use their strengths to their full potential. It also develops social capital networks, engaging the community to “connect with shared resources, building collective goodwill and strengthening relationships across numerous local individuals and organizations.” Love.fútbol and its 5,800 volunteers have had an impact on 29 communities in 8 different countries since its inception, using sports and play to bring about social change in poor communities across the globe.

Street Football World

Street Football World is like Love.fútbol in that it uses football and the model of community-driven football projects to enact social change. It even joined forces with love.fútbol in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Street Football World strives to use football-driven programs to enact social change around the world in eight key areas, ranging from employability and education to health and the environment. Street Football World even creates ‘pop-up’ stadiums and arenas for communities to use for special events and programs, providing theatres of play for impoverished youths in underprivileged areas.

The organization has a multitude of programs that span all seven continents, aiding and enabling millions of people all across the world by using football as a catalyst. Street Football World partners with a number of football institutions, companies, governments and foundations, ranging from FIFA to The U.S. Department of State. It was recently chosen as Berlin’s ambassador for Germany’s bid to host the UEFA Euro 2024 games. In 2015, founder and CEO Jürgen Griesbeck was featured alongside Nelson Mandela and Michelle Obama in Beyond Sport’s ‘Inspirational 50,’ a list celebrating those using sport to “push boundaries, inspire generations and ultimately, make the world a better place.”

Beyond Sport

Beyond Sport, based in The U.K., differs from the rest of these four sports organizations that are changing the world in that it is an advocacy group. Beyond Sport is a global organization that advocates and celebrates the use of sports to address social issues with the ultimate goal of making the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals a reality. It works with sports organizations directly, along with governments and businesses alike, on how sports can help achieve both social and business goals and successes.

Over the last decade, it has provided more than $1.5 million in funds and distributed $7 million toward long-term strategic goals. Beyond Sport has a vast network of partners, including the major U.S. sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, NHL and WNBA) that boast a whopping 2,822 projects with 2,690 organizations in 154 countries across 56 sports.

These four sports organizations that are changing the world are great examples of how engaging kids in sports activities can not only change the individual lives of those playing but also those in the communities involved. Through sports and community building activities, these organizations are improving lives around the world.

– Nick Hodges

Photo: Flickr

Dominican Baseball Recruitment
American baseball has become increasingly diverse and filled with players not originally from the United States. Major and minor league recruiters set up sophisticated training facilities, or ‘academias,’ throughout Latin America, including the Dominican Republic, aiming to streamline talented students to successful careers in U.S. baseball. The academias function as motivation and preparation for Hispanic youth to bring themselves and their families out of poverty. Since 4 out of 10 are impoverished in the Dominican Republic, baseball is seen as a ticket out. There are many benefits that come from baseball recruitment in the Dominican Republic.

Baseball in the Dominican Republic

More Major League Baseball players come from the Dominican Republic than any other country. In 2016, 134 players came from the country, about one in every 10 major leaguers. In the Dominican Republic, efforts to build the best players begin with children as young as 14 years old.

It is estimated that Dominican players earn roughly $400 million each year from playing baseball, some of which is sent back to the Dominican Republican and reinvested in their economy. This sum makes up a small part of the true financial impact of baseball in the Dominican Republic, as the training academias draw in thousands of aspiring youths — not just Dominicans, but also those from neighboring countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico and Cuba. These facilities must be staffed with trainers and equipment, and baseball is estimated to spur the Dominican economy by $1 billion a year.

Pros and Cons

Baseball also plays a socially positive role for Dominicans. Dominican baseball recruitment bonds families and friends towards a common goal, and keeps youth out of troubling activities that could derail futures. Major league players functions as heroes and inspiration—showing those who come from nothing that success is possible. Those who grow up impoverished can make it to the MLB, amass a fortune, and spread the wealth back to their home country.

A downside frequently exists when this type of cultural transplant occurs. On average, only 2 percent of those who enter academias ever make it to the major leagues. Another major issue is the use of performance enhancing drugs on youth to make them more competitive to recruiters — handlers, or agents, stand to benefit from their prodigies’ prowess and success. 

Since players’ signing bonuses range anywhere from $10,000 to over $3 million, with handlers receiving 10 percent – 50 percent of this amount, it’s logical that Dominican players make up 38 percent out of those who test positive for these drugs. In addition, few legal boundaries are in place for how players are handled prior to handling, and often result in vast amounts of corruption among agents.

Back to One’s Roots

Despite these problems, the success of baseball recruitment in the Dominican Republic remains strong. Nelson Cruz, the Seattle Mariners cleanup hitter, is an exemplary illustration of a Dominican player that gives back in meaningful ways. 

Living the good life as an impressive MLB player, he has not forgotten the reality of life for many back home in the Dominican Republic. His family ingrained in him a commitment to doing the right thing, and after his old neighbors and lifelong friends in Las Matas de Santa Cruz lost their home in a fire, he arranged to have a firetruck sent back to his hometown.

“In my community, we didn’t have a firetruck,” Cruz said. “We also needed an ambulance because we don’t have the biggest hospital. When somebody gets sick, or accidents or heart attacks, any emergency, we had to transport those people in trucks or SUVs, nothing that can give you the medical attention you need.”  In the U.S., we take things like emergency medical response for granted, but this is often not the case in many Latin American countries. Cruz’s donation has reportedly helped save many lives and changed the landscape of his home country.

Living the Dream

Cruz has also arranged a scholarship program to help combat some of the issues with baseball recruitment. Oftentimes, recruits leave school and sign a three-year contract but never make it to the big leagues, leaving them with nothing and no education. Cruz helped create a scholarship program to help these youth obtain an online diploma in an attempt to ease the transition for Hispanic youth whose baseball dreams fail to take them to full athletic success. 

This story of one of many Hispanic players giving back to their home countries facing extreme poverty demonstrates the positive cycle spurred by baseball recruitment in Latin America. This sport helps bring underdeveloped countries out of extreme poverty and can act as a beacon of hope for Hispanic youth.

– Jilly Fox

Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents SamoaLocated in the region of the world known as Oceania, the islands of Samoa make up a nation that has been able to successfully sustain its economy since gaining its independence from New Zealand in 1961. A nation known for its sacred family values, the island of roughly 195,000 citizens is largely dependent on its agricultural and fishing industries.

In recent years, the island nation has been highlighted in the media for its obesity epidemic, due to the nation’s low Per Capita Income of $5,965. This has caused many families to turn to cheap food products, which are usually high in calories, in order to survive. In spite of the nation’s ongoing struggle with its obesity issue, what may often be overlooked is how the media misrepresents Samoa.

History of Samoa: A Future with Promise

Samoa is a nation composed of citizens that have withstood colonization as well as threats from natural disasters, such as the 2009 earthquake in the Pacific that induced a tsunami. The nation’s current GDP is roughly $830 million, which is not a substantial amount of money for the economy.

However, in recent years, the nation has made several milestones that allude to economic progressions, such as joining the World Trade Organization. The nation has also advocated more for women’s rights by developing a quota system to ensure that more women receive the opportunity to participate in governmental affairs.

How the Media Misrepresents Samoa

Although Samoa has its domestic challenges to overcome, the island has long been producing some of the most talented athletes the world has ever seen. The media misrepresents Samoa by shedding light on the nation’s obesity epidemic, rather than on the athletic talent that has given a good reputation to the nation.

Samoa is referred to as “Football Island” because of the significant number of American NFL football players that come from there. Samoan men have been recognized for their athletic capabilities over the years and have been recruited to football and rugby teams in New Zealand, the United States and Australia.

Two such athletes are Jordan Cameron, who played for the Miami Dolphins, and Malcom Floyd, who played for the San Diego Chargers. Both men were nominated for the 2015 Polynesian Pro Football Player of the Year Award.

Women have also made their mark in the sports industry. Women athletes have made history for Samoa by winning coveted sports awards. One such award, achieved by Sergeant Latoya N. Marshall, was the Female Athlete of the Year award by the All-Army Sports Office.

Another internationally-recognized female athlete is weightlifter Ele Opeloge, who brought attention to Samoa over the years for her weightlifting performances in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Opeloge was awarded a silver medal for her performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and continues to receive recognition from the media for her achievements.

Tourism: A Promising Industry

Another industry that remains promising for Samoa is the tourism industry. The nation hosts a natural, tropical scenery that attracts people from all over the world, and according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Samoan tourism makes up roughly $207.5 million of the nation’s GDP and 132,000 tourists visited the island nation in the year 2013 alone.

Oceanian culture has also gained a wider international influence, an influence that has the potential to attract more tourists to the region over time. One recent example is with the release of the widely successful Disney film “Moana,” an animation about a figurative princess from the island of Tahiti that has grossed over $600 million.

As Samoa continues to rise above its struggles with domestic obesity, a weak economy and threats from nature, the nation shows great promise. Several industries have brought the nation positive recognition in the international media, overshadowing the multiple ways that the media misrepresents Samoa.

– Lois Charm
Photo: Flickr

Soccer and Poverty
Nelson Mandela once said, “sport has the power to change the world.” If that’s true, the four billion soccer fans around the globe today hold the greatest amount of power. Soccer enjoys a popularity level almost double that of the next most popular sport.

Inherent in that popularity is a responsibility to give back, to use that influence to impact some of those who hold the sport in the highest esteem — the world’s poor. In truth, soccer and poverty often exist together, but poverty is the unwanted relative that has overstayed its welcome.

Soccer’s Best Pitch

Soccer and poverty may meet on level ground, but some organizations dig their cleats into the earth, and find traction against a familiar foe. Franco Silva — who created the organization Kizazi which fights poverty at its root through micro loans furnished through the purchase of soccer balls — understands that soccer not only unites, but for many, forms identity.

“When people are young, we tend to tie our identities—who we are—to what we do, to what we’re good at. We define ourselves with external things,” he said.

What happens when those external things cease to be? For many people living in developing countries, especially youth who have difficulty finding jobs, the ennui of the day-to-day necessitates a healthy outlet.

A Healthy Outlet

In Tanzania, that outlet is a football (soccer) program called Lengo, which provides player sponsorship and positive role models that ensure continuation of education and enough capital for families to start small businesses; in other words, a positive step in breaking the cycle of poverty.

In Uganda, the nonprofit Soccer Impact Uganda focuses on the development needs of impoverished communities. What starts as an activity that brings communities together soon snowballs into long-term projects like:

  • installing reserve water systems
  • finding alternative sources of energy
  • providing medical care
  • delivering textbooks and other educational materials, and
  • helping with construction and renovation projects.

Halfway around the world from Uganda, the Mexican Soccer Federation launched the “11 Plays for Health” to promote healthy habits in vulnerable communities based on a similarly named strategy that parts of Africa have already successfully implemented.

The power of soccer has extended to the revolutionary in places like Cairo, Egypt, where the cheers of a football tournament can drown out the angry noise of violent political protests.

In fact, soccer and poverty go so hand-in-hand that an actual tournament exists called the Homeless World Cup. The foundation was created in 2003 and now hosts teams from over 75 countries, all of whose citizens have faced homelessness and social marginalization in one form or another.

Other Sports that have Joined the Fight

At the very least, sports initiatives are doing their part to oust poverty. From Nairobi, Kenya, where youth meet weekly to do yoga, to Jakarta, Indonesia, where a badminton tournament strives to instill leadership skills and confidence in a nation’s youth, a war has been waged between sports and poverty.

At the heart of this war, grass roots initiatives and innovation take command. Soccer and poverty both cling to desperation, but a new front line stands ready to strike.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr

Philanthropists in American Professional SportsThere are many American athletes who are not only known for their athletic abilities, but also their philanthropic efforts. Here are four of the most impactful:

Roger Federer
Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017, Roger Federer has seen a career in professional tennis filled with success. His remarkable performance on the court was closely rivaled by his humanitarian efforts over the years. The Roger Federer Foundation works in six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in Switzerland, to improve struggling educational systems. In 2016, the foundation spent over $6 million to improve access to and quality of early education for impoverished children. Federer serves as a shining example of how charity and sports can successfully go hand-in-hand.

Madieu Williams
Madieu Williams is a former NFL safety who played for multiple teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings. Williams grew up in Sierra Leone in West Africa and moved to the U.S. when he was nine years old. He created the Madieu Williams Foundation in 2006 and returns to Sierra Leone every year to help improve education and build schools. The Madieu Williams Foundation also focuses on improving the health of children living in poverty in both Sierra Leone and in the U.S. Williams has also donated $2 million to build the Madieu Williams Center for Global Health Initiatives at the University of Maryland.

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born basketball player in NBA history. Born in Germany, Nowitzki came to America to play professional basketball as a young adult and has since been named an all-star 13 times. Nowitzki was the first European player to play in an NBA all-star game in 2007, and as his career took off, so did his philanthropic efforts. In 2013, Nowitzki was named the German ambassador for UNICEF, with a focus on eliminating child hunger and malnutrition around the world. He also started the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation, which works to fight poverty and hunger in Africa.

David Ortiz
Born in the Dominican Republic, David Ortiz came to America and saw a long, prosperous baseball career, winning two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox. One of the greatest to play the game of baseball, Ortiz is also one of the most dedicated philanthropists in American professional sports. Ortiz has always prioritized improving the quality of – and the ease of access to – healthcare for children. The David Ortiz Children’s Fund works in the Dominican Republic and in the U.S., and has a focus on providing adequate healthcare to impoverished children with congenital heart defects.

Regardless of team affiliation, these athletes are using their fame and their platforms to make a real and tangible difference in the fight against global poverty. In addition to these efforts, the awareness they raise surrounding these issues has surely inspired – and will continue to inspire – others to contribute to the fight against poverty and make a difference.

Tyler Troped

Photo: Flickr

Refugee AthletesPreceding the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced that a team of 10 refugee athletes would be allowed to compete in the games and carry the Olympic flag. The team was called Team Refugee Olympic Athletes and was treated just like any other Olympic team.

By allowing the refugee athletes to be a part of the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the IOC is hoping to give hope to refugees everywhere.

“Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem,” said IOC President Thomas Bach in a news release. “They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees in the Olympic Village.”

While these athletes now have a chance to be a part of a team in uncertain times, Visa, the world’s largest payments network, saw that there was an even bigger opportunity for comradery. Team Visa is a network of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who are sponsored by Visa.

In July 2016, all 10 refugee Olympic athletes signed on to become a part of Team Visa. Through the partnership, the refugee athletes are supported in their athletic journey’s and in turn, help Visa to promote a culture of acceptance.

According to Chris Curtin, Visa’s Chief Marketing Innovation and Brand Officer, the perseverance the refugee Olympic athletes is inspiring not only Visa, but the world. The bravery that allowed the athletes to get to the Olympic games and march with the Olympic flag directly embodies Visa’s belief in acceptance for everyone, everywhere.

While the Rio Games proved a success for the refugee athletes and Team Visa overall, neither party shows sign of stopping there. On July 9, 2017, the IOC confirmed that a Refugee Olympic Team will compete at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Team Visa’s involvement with the athletes has not yet been confirmed, but a source says they are looking to extend relationships.

“We are committed to sustaining our message of acceptance worldwide and are exploring longer term partnership opportunities with the IOC on their Olympic Solidarity Initiatives, and with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on their refugee development programs,” a spokesperson told The Wrap. “We are also exploring contract renewals for select Team Visa athletes in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”

Madeline Boeding
Photo: Flickr